By Doug Shanaberger
Legendary book editor Michael Korda once said that Rona Jaffe found her place in the sun as an author when she presented readers of the 1950s with the “very prototype of the hot ‘women’s novel,'” one Jaffe herself believed that “people were waiting for.”
And what story (to be exact, what timeless story) doesn’t deserve a comeback after a few decades in obscurity, whether it goes back to where the public first discovered it—on book shelves, surrounded by other examples of the juicy/stormy/racy genre—or returns in a different form? Say, at Little Lake Theatre.
It all began with a phrase that Jaffe, a Radcliffe alumna, remembered from a New York Times ad aimed at young women who were searching for an alternative to the marriage-plus-children route travelled so early by their mothers and grandmothers. “You Deserve the Best of Everything,” promised the ad seductively.
From there, “The Best of Everything” as a novel was born, becoming the great working-girls-in-the-big-city bestseller of its time, moving on to a second, more extravagant life thanks to Twentieth Century Fox’s glossy Cinemascope treatment in 1959, and even opening the door for numerous successors … from Mary McCarthy’s more controversial book “The Group” in the ’60s to that titillating juggernaut known as “Sex and the City” in the ’90s.
Now comes Julie Kramer’s adaptation of Jaffe’s groundbreaking hit.
“Neither a delirious sendup nor a mordant, finger-wagging deconstruction,” wrote Ben Brantley in his New York Times review in 2012, but a respectful reinvention that transports audiences back to the Eisenhower era and illustrates how challenging the 9-to-5 life was for ambitious secretaries making waves and putting their desire for lives outside of the most conventional expectations (in other words, independence now, men later) to the test in the New York publishing scene.
The play opens on May 28 at Little Lake, with Roxy MtJoy making her debut as a play director on local boards after inheriting the position of company leader from Sunny Disney Fitchett. And very excited, thrilled, grateful, also slightly anxious, etc., to do so.
“It’s perfect for me,” Roxy said about “The Best of Everything,” which she appreciates for the qualities that she hopes audiences will enjoy, too: “the great roles for women, the humor, the pathos and the fabulous style.” She’s also impressed with the relevance in Jaffe’s influential, nearly 60-year-old narrative. “The struggles of women in the workplace haven’t gone away. Sexual harassment still exists. The glass ceiling still exists. Unequal pay still exists. The myth of Having it All still exists. And, of course, the pursuit of love still exists.”
Forming the cast of the second production in Little Lake’s current season, its 67th, are Jane Joseph, Mary Brodland, Lindsey Bowes, Hollie Kawecki, Teresa Harrold, Rebekah Hukill, Jason Dille and Vincent Marshall—all a tad too young to carry much knowledge about the 1950s apart from what they learned through history classes and gleaned from pop culture.
Yet there they were at last Sunday’s rehearsal, outfitted from head to toe in period-suitable garb and giving life to characters who, until Julie Kramer wrote her play, hadn’t been seen or heard from in enough years that they had faded from memory along with the restless married couples from “No Down Payment,” another ’50s sensation.
The rehearsal didn’t come off without a hitch. The sound board decided, at the get-go, that it didn’t want to cooperate and then sat, unusable, for the rest of the day. The 1950s and today’s fancy gadgets … not a match. How did the director react? Calmly, I’d say. “This is live theater, and that’s what we have to deal with,” she said pleasantly and with a shrug, while probably thinking “Worse could happen.”
Then she soldiered on, giving the cast a brief but reassuring pep talk (“Relax, take it easy …”) before sitting back to quietly watch as her six actresses and two actors went to work.
Members of the behind-the-scenes creative team observed as well. Close to the stage sat costume designer Carol Lauck, attentive as ever to details (well, she lived through the ’50s) and careful to avoid missteps that might easily be detected by a gaffe squad.
“That hat you’re wearing is wrong for the period,” Carol said to one of the actresses. “It’s a pillbox, what Jackie Kennedy would have worn a few years later. We’ll have to get you a hat that’s correct.” Another actress struggled with a quick between-scenes costume change and made one of her entrances while frantically (and with a good sense of humor) trying to button her blouse.
That’s what rehearsals are for, though, to get the imperfections out of the way in time for opening night. And like a song from the ’50s goes, “it’s all in the game.”
To purchase tickets for “The Best of Everything,” which runs through June 13, phone Little Lake’s box office at 724-745-6300, or take advantage of the opportunity to order tickets online at www.littlelake.org.